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Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

But if so many difficulties attend the argument a posteriori, said DEMEA, had we
not better adhere to that simple and sublime argument a priori, which, by offering
to us infallible demonstration, cuts off at once all doubt and difficulty? By this
argument, too, we may prove the infinity of the Divine attributes, which, I am
afraid, can never be ascertained with certainty from any other topic. For how can
an effect, which either is finite, or, for aught we know, may be so; how can such
an effect, I say, prove an infinite cause? The unity too of the Divine Nature, it is
very difficult, if not absolutely impossible, to deduce merely from contemplating
the works of nature; nor will the uniformity alone of the plan, even were it
allowed, give us any assurance of that attribute. Whereas the argument a priori
You seem to reason, DEMEA, interposed CLEANTHES, as if those advantages
and conveniences in the abstract argument were full proofs of its solidity. But it is
first proper, in my opinion, to determine what argument of this nature you choose
to insist on; and we shall afterwards, from itself, better than from its useful
consequences, endeavour to determine what value we ought to put upon it.
The argument, replied DEMEA, which I would insist on, is the common one.
Whatever exists must have a cause or reason of its existence; it being absolutely
impossible for any thing to produce itself, or be the cause of its own existence. In
mounting up, therefore, from effects to causes, we must either go on in tracing an
infinite succession, without any ultimate cause at all; or must at last have
recourse to some ultimate cause, that is necessarily existent: Now, that the first
supposition is absurd, may be thus proved. In the infinite chain or succession of
causes and effects, each single effect is determined to exist by the power and
efficacy of that cause which immediately preceded; but the whole eternal chain or
succession, taken together, is not determined or caused by any thing; and yet it
is evident that it requires a cause or reason, as much as any particular object
which begins to exist in time. The question is still reasonable, why this particular
succession of causes existed from eternity, and not any other succession, or no
succession at all. If there be no necessarily existent being, any supposition which
can be formed is equally possible; nor is there any more absurdity in Nothing's
having existed from eternity, than there is in that succession of causes which
constitutes the universe. What was it, then, which determined Something to exist
rather than Nothing, and bestowed being on a particular possibility, exclusive of
the rest? External causes, there are supposed to be none. Chance is a word
without a meaning. Was it Nothing? But that can never produce any thing. We
must, therefore, have recourse to a necessarily existent Being, who carries the
REASON of his existence in himself, and who cannot be supposed not to exist,
without an express contradiction. There is, consequently, such a Being; that is,
there is a Deity.